• South Africans, and especially Capetonians, are breathing a much-needed sigh of relief as dam levels recover following recent rains.
  • Cape Town’s dam levels are now up to 71.2%, a stark contrast from 2017, when Cape Town levels were a bleak 27.2%.
  • Using satellite imagery from Planet Labs, tracked how South Africa's largest dams have changed over the last years. 
  • Still, WWF South Africa are cautioning South Africans to be conscious of their water usage.
  • For more stories, go to www.businessinsider.co.za.

South Africans, and especially Capetonians, are breathing a much-needed sigh of relief as dam levels recover following recent rains. Cape Town’s dam levels are now up to 71.2%, according to the latest numbers on 26 July 2019 said the City. This is a stark contrast from 2017, when Cape Town levels were a bleak 27.2%.

Even though the dams are filling up, environmental group WWF South Africa is cautioning South Africans to still be conscious of their water usage. The drought serves as an important reminder that fresh water is a precious commodity and needs to be looked after.  It doesn’t take much for our dams to become depleted. Three years before the Day Zero crisis hit Cape Town in 2017, dams were at 100%. 

“South Africa is a naturally water scarce country, with only 490mm annual rainfall on average which is less than half the global average,” said Christine Colvin, Head of WWF South Africa’s Freshwater Programme.

“Only 10% of the land in South Africa generates half of the freshwater run-off into our rivers. The need to secure these areas should be a national priority – not only for households and the well being of our citizens but for the economy as a whole."

The same can be said for other dams across the country which are now worryingly low. 6 out of 9 provinces are still categorised as being in 'severe drought status, according to the Department of Water and Sanitation's Drought Status and Management information system. 

Department of Water and Sanitation
Source: The Drought Status and Management information system, Department of Water and Sanitation.

Using satellite imagery from Planet Labs, we were able to track how South Africa's largest dams have changed dramatically over the last few years: 


Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s largest dam, is now almost 53% full. At the height of Day Zero in 2017 it teetered at a terrifying 10%.

“Theewaterskloof Dam, is now almost 53% full. Back in the height of Day Zero in 2017 it teetered at a terrifying 10% and Capetonians were frantically saving up water supplies in fear of running out,” said Christine Colvin, Head of WWF South Africa’s Freshwater Programme.

Dam levels are expected to rise even further as another cold front is on the way bringing heavy rain, strong to gale force winds and light snowfall over parts of the Western Cape and Northern Cape, predicts the South African Weather Service.

The dam serves Cape Town with most of its drinking water as well as irrigation for farming in the Western Cape.  

Surface water storage Theewaterskloof Dam. Source: The Drought Status and Management information system, Department of Water and Sanitation.


Our largest dam, in terms of volume, the Gariep Dam, is 91.5% full. 

In January of 2017, Gariep, which is found in the Free State Province, was 46.3% full. Its primary purpose is for irrigation, domestic and industrial use as well as for power generation.

Surface water storage Gariep Dam. Source: The Drought Status and Management information system, Department of Water and Sanitation.


In other parts of the country dam levels are dropping. Gauteng’s Vaal Dam sits at 64.4% down from 98% last year this time.  

With the expectation that there will be little to no rain during the winter months the Department of Water and Sanitation issued a notice for Gauteng water consumers to use water cautiously.

Source: The Drought Status and Management informat
Surface water storage Vaal Dam. Source: The Drought Status and Management information system, Department of Water and Sanitation.

Constructed in 1938, the Vaal Dam shares its water between provinces in terms of borders and in this case, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State province. The Vaal Dam is officially South Africa’s 2nd biggest dam in terms of surface area and the 4th largest by water capacity or volume. 


Pongolapoort Dam, in KwaZulu Natal is at a worrying 45.6%, relatively unchanged since 2016.

Pongolapoort was last over 85% in 2014. It has been declared 'moderately low' since 2016 with levels petering around the 40% mark since then.

Surface water storage Pongolapoort Dam. Source: The Drought Status and Management information system, Department of Water and Sanitation.

The dam was originally built to supply water to local farmers for the cultivation of crops such as sugar cane, maize and cotton. Also known as the Jozini Lake, it is surrounded by private game reserves. 

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: